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Search tags: literature-criticism-biography-and-essays
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review 2016-08-15 21:24
Interesting choices
Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives - John Sutherland

Sutherland's personal selection of 294 novelists undoubtedly leaves people asking questions like - where is Byatt, Carter, and Pratchett. Sutherland, however, points out this is his list. And you know what - he does a rather impressive job including non-canon writers, in particular many women writers outside of the standard big ones of Austen, Brontes, Elliot, and so on. Quite frankly, he should get some major props for including writers of popular fiction. He includes VC Andrews. How many women read her (or him) as young girls?

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review 2016-07-28 21:56
Depends on how much you know
Anne Frank: Her Life and Legacy - Jemma J. Saunders

This isn't a bad book. If you have read the work of Prose or Muller about Anne Frank, however, this book doesn't really add anything to that. It is, however, a good starting point for someone who is interested in the history surrounding the diary. It can be read by both adults and children. In fact, if you have a child who has read the diary and wants to know more, this is a good (and affordable) place to start.

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review 2016-04-13 21:33
Out June 6
Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape - Kelly Oliver

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

 

                In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that of the movies and books that Oliver discusses in this book, I have not read the Twilight series, Insurgent Series, The Hunger Games, or seen the movie Hanna in its entirety.  I have read 50 Shades of Grey (I wish I hadn’t) and part of the Hunger Games. 

 

                To say this is an interesting book would be wrong.  It is a rather unique look at a raising cultural trend.  You may end up disagreeing with Oliver but at the very least, she will make you think.

 

                Oliver’s focus is on the prevalence of young girls in movies who at first glance seem to kick ass.  While much of the movies she deals with were books first, Oliver’s discussion is primary focused on the film versions of the various series.  This, on one level, is understandable because the film undoubtedly reaches a wider audience, but also because it is the creative output of more than one person.  Oliver contends that while the more active “princess” character is good, there is something off about the vast numbers of girls who get beaten and almost raped, usually beaten at one point by the boy she loves.  Oliver’s analysis of this beating the girl up is most powerful when she discusses the Kick-Ass series. In these sections, Oliver also considers the camera angles and views. 

 

                The connection between the hunting girls and campus date rape is not as quite strong as it could be.  The strongest point is the link is between 50 Shades and campus date rape, a connection that Oliver makes.  She always draws connections to the old Sleeping Beauty stories (where the prince rapes Sleeping Beauty) as well.  The connection to Bella, Katniss, and Tris is less clear, though not due to Oliver’s writing.  The hunter as hunted is good, but she seems to be on surer ground when she deals with the boy being controlled and forced to attack the heroine.   The connections she makes between such scenes and campus/date rape is rather powerful as is the use of social media in the various movies and how it connects to interactions with social media in the real world.

 

                Also of interest is when Oliver compares the hunting girls of today to the animal loving girls of the movies.  It is a valid point, this switch to hunting animals and no longer protector of animals.  These passages in particular raise several questions – is it identifying the girls more closely with the male world, is it a symbol of strength or something else?  This leads into a discussion about Artemis, the first girl with a bow, and what she symbolized.

 

                I do wish that Oliver had considered more of the role of other women in the stories.  Isn’t it just as damaging and dangerous to have only the heroine be the only capable female in the story.  This trend, sadly, is seen in more than young adult kick ass heroines.  At the very least, however, she does get the reader to think about the portrayal of girls as action heroes, and whether so much blood must be shed by them.

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review 2016-01-22 01:06
Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas - Douglas Murray

 

 

                Boise, Alfred Douglas, was a factor in the fall and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.  Douglas Murray’s book attempts to rescue Douglas from being known just for one thing – as Wilde’s boy toy – as well to restore Boise’s reputation as a poet.

 

                Sadly, there is something off about the book.

 

                Murray does have a point in the whole Wilde/Boise affair. At that point, Boise was young and spoiled.   He didn’t hold a gun to Wilde’s head, and Wilde was the married man and father.

 

                Yet this point aside Murray does not really succeed in what he sets out to do.

                Part of the problem is the sense of vacuum.  The book is   about Boise, and mostly Boise there really isn’t much sense of the time he lived in or the people who formed part of his story. While background is given about his parents, this is one of the few times that such detail is given.  For instance, when Boise’s elder brother’s wife dies it only gets a mention when his brother remarried in the next sentence.   When talking about the animosity between  Ross and Douglas, Murray chalks it up to simple jealous on the part of Ross, an argument that is hard to fully buy because Murray doesn’t really give any sense of the relationship between Ross and Wilde, but to say they slept together at least once.  He also implies that Wilde engaged in homosexual behavior because Wilde and his wife stopped having intercourse as a form of birth control.  While such conclusions might be true to present them with little to no support makes them dangerously simplistic.

 

                Another problem is the double standard and Boise as the only honest person.  When writing a biography about someone who has been the target of potshots, there is always the danger of making the subject a sinned against saint.   While Murray doesn’t go this far, he does come too close.   This is due to two things. The first is that he makes it appear that Boise was the only friend to stand by Wilde upon release from prison.  He does this, in part, by condemning Constance Wilde for refusing to give her husband an allowance unless he broke it off with Boise.  Basically, we are led to be, she is being judgmental and unfair.  But this is put forward in a vacuum (Wilde’s fall in this book seems to have had limited impact on his family), and that is part of the problem.  The second is the account of Douglas’ translating the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into English. While it is true that Anti-Semitism was viewed differently, why does this only get a very brief paragraph?  Why should we avoid judging him when we are encouraged to judge Constance and others who condemn homosexuality by today’s standards?

 

                In fact, this almost cynical and dismissive view of women is consistent. Douglas’ wife is no more than a pawn of her father.  Again, there is a vacuum in the detail.

 

                And we are to view Wilde’s affair with Boise differently than we are to view Boise’s affair with a young man.  This episode in the biography occurs when Boise is older and has converted Catholicism – so why a homosexual affair, Murray doesn’t really say.

 

                The other main thrust of the book is that Boise is an overlooked poet, who might have been greater than Wilde in some cases.  He really doesn’t prove this, and the poetry that he does quote, is rather mediocre.  The focus on poetry accounts for the vacuum that weakens the book.

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review 2016-01-09 20:30
Good Companion
Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? - The Anne Frank House

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

 

                If the world was fair, then everyone who has read, or will read, the Diary of Anne Frank could visit the Anne Frank house in person.

 

                While it is possible to see the house by touring the website, it does not convey the whole claustrophobic feeling.  Even today, there is a feeling of being cut off from the outside.  It brings something more to a reading of the diary.

 

                There has always been debate about using the diary to teach the Holocaust, mostly centering on either not telling Frank’s whole story or because that story is such a narrow and unusual one.  The diary, however, does something more important, it provides a door in – an ideal door for it is the words of a girl who doesn’t understand why, and those words speak to children today who are trying to understand the same thing.

 

                This book should be used in conjunction with the diary for it gives more details about those in hiding with Anne.  It makes them more than those who appear because here you have more of the story than Anne Frank’s limited knowledge.  This book fleshes out that knowledge. 

 

                The biographies include and spend as much time on those besides the Franks.  The Van Pels get some nice space and the biographies shed light on not only their marriage but some of the other behavior that Anne Frank witnessed.  Both Margot and Edith Frank, who are always overshadowed by Otto and Anne Frank, have more space here and in their respective sections, photos of them without their more famous relatives are included.  Pfeffer too gets more space. 

 

                It isn’t just the other residents of the Annex that get attention; the helps to get space.  While much as been written about Miep Gies, but here Kleiman, Kugler, and Bep Voskuijl get the same amount of attention as does Jan Gies.  What comes across especially when viewing the photographs was the tightness in the group of people. 

 

                The book is rounded out by very brief information about other people in the surrounding area - such as workers (the cats even get a mention).   The book also includes a timeline and map of important camps, making it a good companion to be used in a classroom or when reading the Diary itself.

 

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